How to Get Rid of Leaf Miners

Updated on January 3, 2020
OldRoses profile image

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.


One of my favorite spring flowers is columbine. I love their clover like foliage and their uniquely shaped flowers. But having columbine means having leaf miners.

What are Leaf Miners?

Leaf miners are the larvae of various insects including flies, sawflies and moths. The larvae overwinter in the soil of your garden and emerge in the spring as young adults. The females lay up to 250 eggs on the undersides of leaves. They use their ovipositor to pierce the surface of the leaves and deposit their eggs inside of the leaves.

The eggs usually hatch within 10 days and the resulting larvae begin to tunnel inside the leaves creating the characteristic wavy lines that you see on your leaves. The larvae live and eat inside the leave for 2 to 3 weeks before they mature. As the larvae grow, the width of the tunnels increase.

At maturity, they drop to the ground beneath the plant, burrow 1 to 2 inches into the soil and pupate. 15 days later, they emerge as adults and the cycle begins again. It is possible to have multiple generations of leaf miners during the growing season.

Tomato leaf with leaf miner damage.  Note how the width of the tunnels increase as the larvae grows.
Tomato leaf with leaf miner damage. Note how the width of the tunnels increase as the larvae grows. | Source

What Plants Do Leaf Miners Like?

Leaf miners like broad leaf plants including ornamentals such as my beloved columbine. Citrus trees and blackberries are also on their menu. They cause the most trouble in the vegetable garden where they infest beans, cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes and peppers. This is a big problem for farmers as well as gardeners.

Why Are Leaf Miners So Hard To Kill?

Leaf miners are difficult to kill because they live inside of the leaves of your plants. Spraying your plants doesn’t harm them because the spray only coats the outsides of the leaves. Systemic insecticides which are absorbed by the plants and can kill the leaf miners either contain ingredients that are banned in some areas or are not allowed to be used on edible plants.

Fortunately, there are some simple organic solutions that can help keep your garden free of these pests.

Kill Leaf Miners by Squeezing the Leaves

Keep a careful watch on your plants. As soon as you see the beginnings of the distinctive wavy lines, squeeze the leaves. This will squish the larvae, killing it. This is a great solution because you get the satisfaction of killing the bug without having to actually touch it.

Remove Infected Leaves

If you only have a few leaves with leaf miner damage, you can break off those leaves and discard them. Don’t put them in your compost. Put them in your garbage.

Also carefully check any new transplants before planting them in your garden. If you see any evidence of leaf miner activity, either remove those leaves or return the plant to the nursery from which you bought it for a refund. It’s always a good idea to check plants before you purchase them for any evidence of pests.

Use a Trap Crop

Trap crops are a great way to keep leaf miners out of your valuable plants. Trap crops are plants that are also attractive to a pest. The idea is to plant the trap crop nearby so that the pest infests the trap crop instead of your crop. Good trap crops for leaf miners are columbine, lambsquarter and velvetleaf (a large annual plant that is a member of the mallow family).

Floating Row Covers.  The sides are anchored in the soil to prevent any pests from getting into the tunnels to destroy the crops.
Floating Row Covers. The sides are anchored in the soil to prevent any pests from getting into the tunnels to destroy the crops. | Source

Use Barriers

A great way to keep leaf miners out of your garden is to stop them from getting in. There are two effective methods that you can use. Many vegetable gardeners and farmers use black plastic to cover the soil in their crop rows. This also prevents the hibernating larvae from emerging from the soil in the spring. The plastic prevents any mature larvae that have developed in leaves from dropping to the ground and burrowing into it to finish pupating thereby disrupting the life cycle of leaf miners.

Another useful barrier is floating row covers. Since the adults are all flying insects, row covers prevent the females from landing on your plants to deposit their eggs. Make sure that you secure the sides and ends of your tunnels to the ground to keep the insects out.

Use Beneficial Insects

Beneficial insects are a great organic solution. For leaf miners, you want to purchase and release a parasitic wasp known as the leafminer parasite. The adults get into the tunnels that leaf miners have created in the leaves and kill them. Then they lay a single egg in the tunnel which hatches into a pupae. The pupae feeds on the dead leaf miner larvae, while it develops into an adult wasp.

Sticky traps being used in a greenhouse to attract and trap flying pests
Sticky traps being used in a greenhouse to attract and trap flying pests | Source

Use Sticky Traps

Beneficial insects work great in greenhouses. Another good solution for plants grown indoors or in greenhouses are sticky traps. Sticky traps are cards that are covered with adhesive that are either hung or placed on stick holders in the greenhouse. They are brightly colored because each type of pest is attracted to certain colors. For leaf miners, use yellow or blue. The adults are attracted to the yellow or blue. When they land on the card, they become stuck on the adhesive so that they are unable to mate and lay eggs.

Questions & Answers

  • Is there an essential oil or something from the kitchen to kill this?

    Unfortunately, essential oils and other products that are sprayed on plants don't get rid of leaf miners because they only coat the surface of the leaves while the leaf miners live inside the leaves. You need something that can get inside of the plants to kill the insects. I'm not sure which plants you have that are infected, but I do suggest 6 different ways to kill leaf miners that don't involve chemicals. I'm an organic gardener and use no chemicals in my garden.

  • If my tomato plants have leaf miner damage will they still produce tomatoes?

    Yes, you will still get tomatoes. Leaf miners do not kill the foliage, just damage it. The plants are still able to photosynthesize and produce foliage, flowers and fruit.

  • Which systemic insecticide can eradicate leaf miners?

    I cannot answer your question because I am an organic gardener. I don't use pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers. Please remember whenever you use an insecticide, you are using poison. That poison will not stay confined to the plants you are spraying. It spreads throughout the environment and poisons our soil, air, and water. When you use insecticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers you are poisoning the planet.

  • I noticed I had what I think are these, I killed the insect inside the leaves and removed affected. Will spinach and chard leaves only slightly eaten by leaf miners still be OK to eat?

    Yes, you can eat leaves that have minor damage. It is recommended that you cut out the damaged part of the leaf before eating, but if you accidentally eat the damaged part, it won't harm you.

  • I am looking to prevent any leaf miners on my Virginia creeper and grape vines this year, can I spray neem oil solution or protect the soil somehow from them ever getting started?

    Sprays are not going to work against an insect that is living inside of the leaves. Treating your soil won't help because the insects don't ever come in contact with the soil. Try planting a trap crop of columbine, lambsquarter or velvetleaf (a large annual plant that is a member of the mallow family) to lure the insects away from your Virginia Creeper and grape vines.

© 2018 Caren White


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    Post Comment
    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      4 weeks ago

      You're welcome! Glad to be of help.

    • Allain Christmas profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      4 weeks ago from Central Florida

      This is great information and I'll start right away pinching the leaves of my yellow squash which is where I'm seeing the leaf miner tracks. Thanks so much.

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      8 weeks ago

      The plastic sold for agricultural and home gardening use is black. Other than warming the soil in the spring, I don't know why it is black.

    • profile image


      8 weeks ago

      And why specifically black plastic on the soil under leaves of a plant with leaf miners?

    • profile image


      8 weeks ago

      My Gerbera daisy has leaf miners. Will be trying the black plastic because I have lots of lizards & don't want to hurt them.Thanks for all the info & tips.

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      2 months ago

      So glad you found it helpful.

    • profile image

      Denise Wetmore 

      2 months ago

      This was very helpful information. Thank you!

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      2 years ago

      Glad you found it helpful!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I don't really have a big garden but who knows when the issue of leaf miners will come up. But my niece who has a huge garden can use these ideas.


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